A transit protest in Brazil ended in a scene of chaos and panic Tuesday night after police fired tear gas inside a crowded São Paulo metro station.
A video published by the daily O Folha de São Paulo shows a mad rush of people — protesters and commuters — frantically scrambling to get out of the underground station after military police fired at least three teargas canisters into the crowd, apparently in response to protester throwing a rock, according to the newspaper.
The scene caused pandemonium as a crush of commuters pushed and shoved each other to escape what many thought was a metro tube fire. One woman told Folha that she was riding the train when the doors opened and a cloud of gas wafted in.
"It was burning and it seemed liked there was a fire," she said. "We didn’t know what was happening."
Caio Castor, 31, was filming as part a media collective affiliated with the protesters. He said the demonstrators had gathered near the metro turnstiles and were chanting when a large group of police arrived beating on their shields with batons. The standoff lasted for about 30 minutes, then the police moved in.
“They just started shooting tear gas all over the place, even in the middle of other police officers, and hitting people," he told Fusion. "I saw some police who were affected badly by the gas."
Castor's video shows at least two police officers affected by the gas, including one who was rushed out by his colleagues.
Another YouTube video published last night shows the reaction of passengers in an arriving train.
Tear gas can be dangerous and even deadly when used in confined spaces. The Council of Europe and Human Rights Watch voiced concerns after Turkish police used tear gas in confined spaces against protesters in Istanbul in 2013.
Protests have been ongoing in Brazil after bus fares were increased by 15 and 19 cents in Rio de Janeiro and in Sao Paulo on Jan. 3. Last night's march — the fifth this month— drew some 4,000 people, according to organizers. It was reportedly a peaceful event until the incident at the metro station.
Last year, Brazil was rocked by more than two weeks of massive street protests in response to similar bus fare hikes in the lead up to the World Cup. The protests fizzled when the rate increases were reversed and the tournament began. This month's bus fare hikes, however, are even steeper. And while protests have not yet returned to the scale they were on in 2014, activists believe they'll scale up.
Erica de Olivera, a 24-year-old member of The Pass Movement, an independent organization that has been the driving force behind this month's demonstrations, said they're just getting started.
“The idea is to continue with the protests and to intensity them, and to force the government to reverse this increase, which is arbitrary and absurd," she told Fusion in a phone interview. “Everyone that’s been a part of this movement has breathed a lot of tear gas by now."
@JaredGoyette is a digital news editor at Fusion.